Slater and Gordon are a law firm leading a class action lawsuit against Australia’s New South Wales Police force over their sniffer dog operations.
The case focuses on the fact they believe hundreds of people were unlawfully strip-searched and could be owed thousands of dollars compensation.
There has been a rise in strip-searching at festivals due to increasing funding for drug detection dogs and policing around music events, but the lawyers argue it’s without proper oversight, training or auditing of how effective the results are.
Without knowing the effectiveness of results, it also raised questions about whether drug detection dogs are a good way to spend taxpayers’ money. On average, it costs around $2,000 an hour per dog, so three dogs on a festival site for 6 hours is a whopping $36,041 per day!
ABC has reported that strip-searching New South Wales has increased from 100 to 5,000 over the last 15 years.
Splendour in the Grass has become the festival at the centre of the lawsuit, due to the event having documented strip search cases that didn’t find any illegal contraband on the suspect following a drug detection dog singling them out. The case argues that NSW Police had little or no training around the stop and search policy or use of dogs.
Ebony Birchall is a lawyer working on the case, and she told ABC that: “The [NSW Police Watchdog] the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission has investigated strip searches at Splendour in the Grass already and they’ve made findings that show that police lack training and didn’t understand the legal safeguards around strip searches,” adding that “This indicates to us that there have been widespread unlawful strip searches at Splendour in the Grass over the last few years.”
As part of their reporting, ABC also spoke with numerous people who had been strip-searched, and one person told their story of getting strip-searched when they weren’t in possession of anything illegal, saying: “I was just like, ‘No, not at all. It’s quite confusing,’ [the officer] just said, ‘This is your last chance, if you’ve got anything on here that you shouldn’t have, give it to me right now otherwise, you’ll be going home right now’.”
After that, he was taken to a demountable building and strip-searched where he was given confronting instructions to “Take your pants off, turn around, bend over, and open up”.
Understandably, those without drugs and strip-searched often feel pretty embarrassed and violated by the intimidating situation.
The New South Wales Police’s own guidelines say that a dog detection alone isn’t enough to warrant a strip search, and this is why the class action lawsuit has been brough against them.